More July and a few August Book Reviews

Yes, it’s only the middle of August, but travels have messed up my schedule. Fortunately, my reading hasn’t suffered, and I have some great books for you, all read between tromping up the trails.

I need to share the reviews before they pile up any higher.

This bunch of reviews is for 4 and 5-star reads including a personal growth book, an ageless illustrated book about love, an uplifting holiday novelette, two books from a series of thriller romances, two installments of a fantasy serial, and last but not least, a horror short story. Phew!

Click on the covers for Amazon global links.

*****

Alternate Reality by Erik Tyler

I’ve read Tyler’s other books and was eager to dive into his latest. Like his previous works, I’d categorize this one as a guide for personal growth, full of practical advice for living a happier and more conscious life as we navigate this complex world. Can’t go wrong with that at a time when politics, biases, and life’s challenges drive wedges between people and create so much hardship and stress.

As the title suggests, the book focuses on our perceptions of reality, and that by challenging our preconceived beliefs about people and situations, we might learn something new, let go of erroneous first impressions, form healthy boundaries, or make new friends. Or all of the above. Choice plays a huge role, with reminders that we may not be able to control what happens to us, but we can always choose how we respond.

Tyler relies heavily on personal anecdotes, which makes for a highly relatable and often humorous read. He illustrates the situation, his initial thinking, how the challenge resolved, and what he learned through perceiving things in a fresh way. Invariably, the change in outlook is insightful, empathetic, and positive.

Each chapter ends with a few questions for reflection that readers can use to personalize his experience and advice. Though I browsed the questions alone on a long plane ride, they would work wonderfully in an informal or formal group setting. Highly recommended to humans who want to reduce stress and live a kinder, happier, and more conscious life. (Kindle Unlimited).

*****

The Boy, the mole, the fox and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy

This is a beautiful book of gentle wisdom that reminded me of Pooh’s insights as he navigates the Hundred Acre Woods with his friends. But in this case, the conversations about life and love occur between a boy, a mole, a fox, and a horse.

“Asking for help isn’t giving up,” said the horse. “It’s refusing to give up.”

The “print” of the book is hand-inked, giving it a whimsical and natural look similar to a journal. Simple, elegant, and beautiful illustrations appear on every page. The book is a short one that can be read in about 30 minutes, but it’s definitely worth savoring, especially if reading to a child.

“I’ve realized why we are here,” whispered the boy.
“For cake?” asked the mole.
“To love,” said the boy.
“And be loved,” said the horse.

A stunning, magical read that I love having on my shelf and plan to give away as gifts during the coming year. Highly recommended.

(My note: The kindle version of this one is more expensive than the hardcover, so I recommend the hardcover).

*****

A Long Walk Home by D. L. Finn

It’s Christmas Eve, and Kenzie is in a horrible mood. She was supposed to get married on Christmas Day, but her fiancé decided to marry her best friend, Joy. On her long walk home, Kenzie growls at shoppers, almost gets hit by a car, and tells off her ex-friend. Then she finds a homeless cat with kittens and things begin to change. Not without a nudge from a pair of kindly angels.

This Christmas novelette is less than an hour’s read. I enjoy stories that show how loving others ultimately opens the door to love in one’s life. There’s a sense of karmic peace in that. And perhaps there’s a bit of karmic comeuppance for the fiancé too. A quick, enjoyable holiday story that I happily recommend.

*****

Summer Lovin’ by Jacquie Biggar

Five years ago, caught up in the moment, Rebecca and Mitch tied the knot in Vegas, and the next day, Mitch received the paperwork for a separation. Fast forward to the present, and somehow the divorce still hasn’t happened. Both of them live in the small town of Tidal Falls and though they try to avoid each other, their attraction is as strong as ever. Then Rebecca befriends a pair of abused children and makes herself a target of the abuser. No way is Mitch going to let anything happen to any of them.

The pace never lets up. The stakes are sky-high right from page one with the two young brothers in jeopardy, and the danger they’re in makes this a page-turner right up until the end. The characters were distinct and authentic, and I connected with them all (except the bad guys—a pair of creeps I loved to hate).

This 90-minute story can be read as a stand-alone, though it was fun to know the secondary characters’ backstories from previous books. I finished it in one sitting, and I count it as one of my favorites of the series. Highly recommended to readers who enjoy an action-packed thriller with a lovely romance tying it all together. (Kindle Unlimited).

*****

Maggie’s Revenge by Jacquie Biggar

In Book 6, the series comes around to Maggie’s escape from the Mexican drug and human trafficker Chenglei, a story that’s been hovering in the background for several books. This installment of the series is full of action and danger as Maggie leads a number of enslaved women into the Mexican desert with the bad guys in hot pursuit. They want information from Maggie, a DEA agent, and they want to make an example of them all.

Running parallel to Maggie’s struggle to keep “her girls” alive is Adam and Frank’s race against time to find her and bring her home. Here’s where the romance elements of this thriller/romance mash-up share the narrative. Adam, Maggie’s DEA partner, had a relationship with her, and though now’s not the time to be thinking about other women, he’s fallen for his boss Amanda. Frank is in love with Maggie but doesn’t want to step on Adam’s toes.

The pace is snappy as the goal to recover Maggie drives the story. The characters stay focused, even with Adam’s daydreaming about sex, and all the characters were believable to me. Maggie steals the show with her toughness and single-minded determination, and she carries the story right up until the end. This book can be read as a stand-alone or as part of the whole series. Highly recommended to readers who enjoy romance/thriller mash-ups with lots of action. (Kindle Unlimited).

*****

Dead of Winter, Journey 13 by Teagan Riordain Geneviene

In this penultimate book to the Dead of Winter serial, signs are evident that the action is wrapping up. The battle between Arawn’s army of the dead and the Deae Matres’s force of sisters, returned spirits, and fickle goddesses has begun. The water goddess Coventina aids the Deae Matres in a sea battle with some wonderful action.

Most of this Journey is in Emlyn’s POV. She becomes the youngest member of the society, and though the other women wish to protect her, she’s embracing her pivotal role as one of the three who will repair the veil separating the dead from the living. It’s clear that she’s matured during the course of the story and, no longer a helpless child, she’s coming into her power.

The pace moves along well with a focus on the concluding action. Emlyn doesn’t participate in the battle, but views it through a mirror, giving the reader a high-level overview. The number of characters requires paying attention, but the author includes a handy glossary at the end to forestall any confusion. I’m looking forward to the final book in the series, which I’m going to start right Now!

*****

Dead of Winter, Journey 14 by Teagan Riordain Geneviene

The final installment in the Dead of Winter serial! The battle with Arawn is over, yet the dead are still loose in the world of the living. The group of protagonists continue to encounter the dead and mop up the world in some excellent fighting scenes, and Emlyn has some tough choices to make. The magical staffs, gems, weapons, and spells all come together, wrapping up a number of threads from the story.

The action ends at about the halfway point of this journey and the denouement begins. For a long and complex story, the extended conclusion makes sense as the author touches on the main characters’ relationships and plans for the future. I was delighted with several of the results. A highly recommended serial to readers who love long epic fantasies and enjoy getting immersed in extensive and continually evolving world-building.

*****

The BEK Curse by Jonathan Pongratz

BEK refers to Black-Eyed Kids, creepy children with solid black eyes that terrorize rural areas. In this short story, Richard and Maria are starting a new life on a farm when they have an encounter with black-eyed kids that goes very wrong. The narrative is fairly straightforward and reminded me of Twilight Zone episodes I used to watch as a kid. A creepy tale with a bit of a twist. Recommended to readers who enjoy quick horror reads. (Kindle Unlimited).

*****

Happy Reading!

Canadian Rockies Haiku

Marveling at Bow Glacier Falls

I’m back after two weeks of exploring the Canadian Rockie Mountains. I hiked just shy of 55 miles (88 km) and climbed almost 15,000 feet (4572 m) in elevation. It was glorious.

The internet was horrible, and I dropped and smashed my laptop while searching for a place to get online. Oh well, more time to enjoy the beauty of the wilderness. While I get back into the swing of things (on my new laptop), I’m delighted to share some photos and mountain-inspired haiku.

The view from my room – Moraine Lake – unedited photo. The water is really that color.

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glacial ice trickles

into roaring white cascades

pristine topaz lakes

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Even the bad weather is beautiful

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fragrance of balsam

northern woodlands soothe the soul

deeply shaded green

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Lake Louise sunrise, another unedited shot

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at the water’s edge

sunrise creeps down the glaciers

reflections of gold

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On the way to the Plain of Six Glaciers tea house.

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tea house in the clouds

blueberry juniper tea

on top of the world

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Wildflowers everywhere.

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Indian paintbrush

yellow columbine abound

Alpine meadows bloom

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One of many waterfalls – Athabasca falls and canyon

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waterfalls cascade

thunder through narrow canyons

carving ancient rock

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No bears were harmed in the making of this photo

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far and wide we searched

for brown, black, and grizzly bears

not disappointed

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And a few other photos from the trail:

Thanks for coming along for a look!

July Book Reviews

Yes, it’s only the middle of July, but in a few days, I’m heading out to explore the Canadian Rockies. For a couple of glorious weeks, I’ll be hiking here:

And hopefully I’ll run into one of these (at a distance):

I already have a bunch of reviews to share and didn’t want the stack to grow too high.

And, of course, I’ll be taking a pile of books with me.

Below are reviews for this month’s 4 and 5-star reads including a western romance, military suspense, historical fiction, biographical fiction, a middle-grade fantasy, a coming of age paranormal fiction, a YA fantasy romance, and a short-story thriller. Phew!

Click on the covers for Amazon global links.

*****

Montana Shootists by Sandra Cox

 What a great read! This is one of my favorites of Cox’s western time-travel romances. Abby Jennings is a US Marine who just lost the love of her life in a tragic fire. She travels home to her family’s Montana ranch to get her bearings and while riding in the mountains, she falls through a portal into the year 1882, right into the sights of gun-for-hire Jake Barrow.

One of the things I loved about the book is that Abby’s stint as a marine made her so confident and tough. She has a tender heart but isn’t intimidated by the roughest, rowdiest of cowboys. She knows how to handle a gun and insists on wearing pants. No helpless woman here. She isn’t going to get pushed around or try to fit into an antiquated feminine role. It was great to watch her stand up to the disrespectful and dangerous men. No wonder Jake was not only exasperated but awestruck.

Abby and Jake are well-drawn protagonists with full personalities, and I loved the strong friendship that formed the basis of their relationship before romantic feelings rose to the forefront. Jake is more of a mystery since Abby carries most of the POV, but his genuine respect and admiration come through loud and clear. I couldn’t help feeling this pair was made for each other.

The secondary characters are equally rich, and many have character arcs of their own. The pace is just right, and I enjoyed the clever and highly satisfying way the plot came together. Very Romantic at the end and just lovely. This would make a great movie. Highly recommended to readers who enjoy westerns, romance, time-travel, and plain old great stories. (Kindle Unlimited).

*****

The Choice: the unexpected heroes by Gwen Plano

This is Book Two in the series and it follows two weeks on the heels of Book One, The Contract. The Contract ended with a foiled assassination attempt on the President of the USA from within the government. Global repercussions were avoided, but important lives were lost. The international plot has yet to be investigated and those accountable brought to justice. That’s the focus of this read.

Admiral Joseph Parker is joined by civilian Donna Tucker and Airforce Public Relations employee Jim Andersen at Begert Airforce Base to begin the investigation. A trustworthy team forms and most of the book focuses on tracking down clues and following leads. The investigation is complex but logical and easy to follow.

And it’s not all routine work as the guilty parties are still at large. As the investigation gets closer to discovering the depth and breadth of the conspiracy, anyone with information that might break open the case starts dying. A sense of urgency intensifies as the bodies stack up and the death threats zero in on the team. The third-person present tense POV adds to the sense of immediacy.

I liked all of the characters, particularly the team of protagonists. They’re smart, and they care deeply about what happened and about getting to the truth. Aside from the thrills, there are romantic subplots as well as a paranormal/spiritual element to the story. The book ends with a cliff-hanger, so readers should be prepared to read onward. Highly recommended to fans of military thrillers.

*****

Loving Lady Lazuli by Shehanne Moore

Ten years ago, Sapphire, the infamous London jewel thief, slipped the Wentworth emeralds into the pocket of an unsuspecting young lord. Caught with the jewels, Devorlane Hawley spent ten years serving in the military, which included getting shot. At the end of his service, he returns home to find a very familiar face at his welcoming party.

Cassidy Armstrong feigns innocence and concocts a series of lies that unravel as quickly as she can think them up. Retired from her years as Sapphire, she’s on a mission to prove that she’s the heir to the Armstrong estate, but in order to do that, she needs to scour a stack of paperwork entrusted to you-know-who… Devorlane. Bent on revenge, Devorlane agrees to let her search through the documents as long as she agrees to become his mistress for the duration of her search.

These characters dislike each other intensely (despite their attraction), and that conflicting dynamic plays out for most of the book as they attempt to irritate each other. Multiple POVs give glimpses into both characters’ thoughts and motivations as well as their ambivalence. As always with Moore’s romances, there is plenty of witty humor, and to me, the action/thoughts around sex were more entertaining than the act itself.

Secondary characters are colorful and distinct, adding complications and personality outside the main conflict. The pace is snappy, and I read the book in one sitting. Highly recommended to readers who enjoy witty characters, enemies to friends romances, and a wild plot.

*****

Knuckleheads by Dan Antion

I love stories about kids, especially when they include a blend of relatable antics, tough moments, and heart-warming friendships. Knuckleheads touches on all of those elements in a paranormal tale about two friends, Zach and Billy. Zach, the pov character, has lucid dreams in which he can physically travel, and Billy can see the future.

The tale of Zach and Billy’s friendship begins when they’re in elementary school and extends until they graduate from high school with set plans for the future. It’s a story within a story, told by an older Zach to his adult daughter Abbey over a morning’s breakfast. The frequent intervals of present moment conversation (shown in italics) feel perfectly natural and are as entertaining as the reminiscence.

The novel moves at a good pace, and the characterization is excellent across the board, from teachers to a psychiatrist to the friendly but shady characters in the real estate office next door to the bowling alley owned by Zach’s dad. His father was one of my favorite characters with his endless street-smart wisdom and support of Zach as he navigates childhood challenges and his unique ability.

The question as to why Billy didn’t attend Zach’s retirement party is the reason for the conversation between Zach and Abbey, and this remains a mystery at the close of the book. The story ends without a major climax and with a sense of more to come. If readers want the answers, I suspect they’ll have to wait for the second book. I highly recommend this novel to readers who enjoy coming-of-age stories with a bit of a paranormal twist.

*****

Circumstances of Childhood by John W. Howell

Greg and Keith have been best friends, as close as brothers, since their childhoods. They become college football stars and life is going great. Then a tragic accident kills Keith and changes their friendship forever. Though passed on, Keith never leaves Greg side and accompanies him on his journey into middle age, at which time Greg’s investment business comes under investigation and his life falls apart.

Until Keith dies, their lives are consumed with high school football where both excel. My husband and I listened to the book while painting our old deck chairs, and hubby (who played the game in high school and college) LOVED that part of the book, chuckling at the humor, the action, and how authentic it was.

Keith functions as an omniscient narrator for about half of the book, able to describe Greg’s life, including his thoughts and feelings as well as those of the people around him. Though I usually don’t care for omniscient POVs, in this case I thought it fit the story and worked well. When Greg’s life hits a low point, the POV becomes his for the remainder of the book.

I enjoyed all the characters, especially Keith and Greg. Secondary characters were also fully formed and felt authentic to me. The plot unfolds like a memoir of a friendship until the POV switch when the investigation into Greg’s business heats up with dire risks and lots of intrigue, similar to a suspense novel. The pace picks up to match the action.

This is an unusual book (almost like two books in one). Both my husband and I enjoyed it, and we finished it while putting on the last coat of paint. It made the time fly by. Recommended to readers who enjoy stories about friendship with a taste for the paranormal and a big helping of suspense. (Kindle Unlimited).

*****

Following the Green Rabbit by Chris Hall

Young Bryony, her little sister Bethany, and their tutor, Mr. Eyre, follow a green rabbit into the woods beyond the orchard and end up two hundred years in the past. All is not well in old England. Lord Childecott has imposed a curfew and increased taxes, and he rules with an iron fist.

The trio of time travelers is taken in by the village residents, and while Bethany is kept safe and busy with a kitten, Mr. Eyre falls into Childecott’s hands with a number of other adults. That leaves Bryony and a group of local young people to see if they can save the day. What follows is lots of well-paced action with captures and escapes, chases and near misses.

This is a cute story with colorful characters, and though there are a lot of them, I was able to keep them straight. Bryony is a brave young lady who cares for her younger sister, and ultimately it’s her intelligence and resolve that leads to a solution. Mr. Eyre is delightful and his enthusiasm made him one of my favorites. Childecott and his henchman Smiler have a dastardly air similar to Captain Hook and Smee (Peter Pan).

Though Childecott issues plenty of threats, there’s minimal violence, and the cast of young protagonists makes this book appropriate for middle-grade readers, young teens, and the young at heart. Recommended to fans of adventure tales where children are the heroes. (Kindle Unlimited).

*****

The One Chosen: A Diasodz Short Story by Yvette M. Calleiro

The One Chosen is a novelette that accompanies The Chronicle of the Diasodz series, and it was my first exposure to the characters and world. Set in the 1600s, young people with special talents (fighting, teleportation, healing) become the Diasodz, secret protectors of humans.

Valerie, chosen for the honor, enters a period of training as a warrior. She becomes infatuated with one of her trainers, Nolan, but he’s all business and keeps her at a distance. Then a training mission goes awry, thrusting Valerie and Nolan into a life or death situation that changes everything.

This is a YA fantasy romance complete with love triangles and long looks. It’s a short 90-minute read with a rapid pace that doesn’t leave much time for significant character development or plausible action beyond the romantic elements. I liked Valerie’s spunk and would have enjoyed learning more about her, Nolan, and Drake (the third point of the love triangle who disappears halfway through the read).

I’m tempted to recommend that readers enjoy this novelette later in the series when they already know the characters. It would make a nice romantic interlude or backstory. For readers who enjoy fantasy combined with YA romance, it’s likely the perfect fix.

*****

The Intruder: A Short Thriller by Marlena Smith

This dark story is a quick 15-minute read. Serenity lives alone in a small town and is startled to discover intimate photos of herself on her phone, ones she didn’t take. The police are kind and helpful, but nothing will stop her terrifying journey to the truth. An entertaining read that was over all too soon. Recommended for fans of dark short stories.

*****

See you in two weeks!

Happy Reading!

Word Craft Poetry “Dreams”

A few days ago, Colleen Chesebro announced the winners of the Word Craft Poetry Syllabic Poetry Contest held to honor the Summer Solstice. The theme was dreams, and poets were instructed to use the syllabic form “tanka prose.” This form combines short prose with a 5-line tanka poem (with a syllable count of 5/7/5/7/7).

I was delighted and honored that my poem “Am I Dreaming?” came out on top. I’m grateful to the judges for their selection and to Colleen for continually encouraging all of us to learn and write poetry. She’s a whirlwind of energy and creativity.

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Please take a moment to pop over to Word Craft Poetry to read the other top poems, written by Ken Gierke, Merril D. Smith, and Jude Itakali. Not only is their poetry beautiful, but it shows off the depth and versatility of the form and the enormous talent in our writing community.

And if you feel inspired, join in Colleen’s Tanka Tuesday challenges. They’re great fun. Happy Writing!

The Necromancer’s Daughter: Joreh

Joreh Graeger

Joreh is the last of my trio of main characters. You’ve met Barus and Aster. Joreh is my reluctant protagonist. The poor guy is riddled with ambivalence. I make all my characters suffer, but Joreh is the least sure of his convictions, and he more than the other characters will be forced to make the difficult choices between justice, faith, and love.

Below is a little snippet from his first POV chapter. I hope you enjoy it.

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Lanterns lit the watchtowers, and guards held up the gleaming gold haloes in the rising squall. The bonfire in the square hissed and thrashed like a demon in iron chains, and Joreh longed to stand before it and forget the girl. The caravan had departed, and the square lay empty as residents sheltered in their homes. The woodsmen headed for the tavern.

He glanced at Aster, impatient for instructions. She waited in the blowing snow for him or whatever would befall her next. Three stiff-backed soldiers approached from the barracks. At the same time, the inn’s door swung open and several brothers of the Red Order descended the steps, his father in the lead.

She stepped back, but surrounded by men from the outpost, she lacked anywhere to run. Joreh grabbed her arm. She shook in his grip, and any strength or confidence he’d witnessed during their short trek vanished. What little color rosied her cheeks drained from her face, and her eyes sought his, white-rimmed with panic. His father terrified her. How did she even know him?

“Well done, Joreh. I’d assumed we’d lost her. How fitting that you’re the one to deliver her to the Blessed One’s justice.” His father clapped him on the back and gestured to a soldier. “Secure her in a cage.”

Her gaze flitted to the dangling cages, and Joreh grimaced, wishing they could get this over with, quietly and honorably, without the displays of intimidation. If they locked her in a cage, she’d freeze to death before morning. He drew a knife from his wide sash and cut the bindings on her wrists, eager to follow the woodsmen into the tavern. “It’s too cold in the cages. Lock her up inside or chain her in the stable.”

She rubbed blood into her strangled hands and edged nearer to him as if he held the key to her salvation. He possessed no such thing. Nor did he want it.

His father looked down his nose at her. “She doesn’t require coddling. She’s dead. And if there’s any question, come morning, we’ll hang her.”

“She hasn’t been tried.” Joreh scraped a hand over his scowl. “You can’t execute her without the goddess’s judgment.”

His father raised an eyebrow. “Oh, my son, watch me. The Blessed One requires no trial for this one. She’s far from innocent. Her very existence is a testament to evil.” He grabbed the collar of her cloak and yanked her toward the fire. She cried out, writhing like a wild thing as she fumbled with the clasp.

Joreh staggered after them. Would his father throw her into the flames? That he even asked himself such a question dismayed him.

The cloak’s brooch popped. Aster dropped to the mud, and the vicar tossed the garment into the fire. He beckoned to the soldiers. “Take her to the cage.”

Joreh gritted his teeth as his father eyed him, daring him to utter a challenge. Two soldiers lowered a wooden cage. A blade prodded her to the cell, and she stumbled inside. She gripped the wooden bars as the rope drew taut through its pulley and lifted her prison, swaying and creaking, into the air. Snow fell through the bars unimpeded. Joreh stamped his frozen feet as the woman curled into the cage’s corner, too far from the fire to feel its warmth. Wrapped in his cloak, he trailed his father into the inn.

Thanks for dropping by and reading!

The Necromancer’s Daughter: Aster

With a book launch on the horizon, I’ve started introducing my three main characters. This is Aster, a young woman who was born dead and resurrected by Barus, the necromancer. He’s raised her as his own, and though he’s warned her away from dragons… she can’t find it in herself to be afraid.

I hope you enjoy this (slightly modified) snippet introducing Aster.

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As it always did, the tide of emotion started as a trickle of anticipation at the base of Aster’s spine. The swelling excitement flowed into her chest, and her fingers tingled. It spread over her skin and rushed into her face. The feelings belonged to the dragon, not to her, but she’d become accustomed to the foreign sensations thrumming through her bones.

The dragon whooshed up the cliff into the ether, nearly knocking her from her feet. Whipped-up wind thrust her grandmother’s blue shawl open, and it flapped from her shoulders like a fledgling’s untested wings. Her fine white hair whirled with the blowing snow. Though she’d expected the creature’s striking entrance, she laughed in surprise.

The beast’s leathery wings angled for a spiraling descent far above her head. Sunlight shone through the webbing, enhancing the mottle of silver and black. She’d encountered this one many times before and raised an arm to wave. “Come down. I’m not afraid.” Would it finally heed her call? A gift for her eighteenth awakening day?

A scar striped the dragon’s snout, jagged as a thunderbolt. Its long neck arched, ruby eyes gleaming as its head dipped toward her, jaws agape. Curved incisors glinted in the raw light, and the serpentine tail snapped at the frozen stalks of asters quivering in the wind.

Barus had told her, long ago, to hide behind a tree and make herself small, and for years, she’d obeyed his wishes. But no more. If the dragon meant to terrify her, it had failed every time. She trusted her instincts, knew to her core that the creature wouldn’t shred her to pieces or whisk her away in its teeth.

But what about an apple?

She reached for the armor of scales as the massive body undulated above her, its back bristling with spikes, clawed feet sweeping the air just beyond her fingertips as she held an apple aloft. The beast circled, rising higher.

“Come down,” she teased, giving the wrinkled fruit a toss. “I brought an apple for you.”

The dragon’s wings swept back, and it dove from the cornflower sky. Aster shrieked and flung the apple. The toothsome jaws snapped the fruit from the air, and she laughed with delight.

As though in answer, the beast bellowed a cry and plummeted beyond the cliff’s wall. Aster darted to the edge as the dragon’s wings unfurled, capturing the wind with the ripple and snap of a galleon’s sails. The colossal beast skimmed the gray sea, flying for the Isles of White Sands glimmering like a mirage on the horizon.

As the drumming of wings surrendered to the waves’ roar, another sound assumed its place. The voices of men.

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Thanks for reading!

June Book Reviews (Part Two)

More book reviews for the month of June, as promised. I suspect July will be quieter (famous last words). I hope you find a great read for the beach or hammock, or for those readers in the thick of winter, a story to warm you by the fire.

Below are reviews for this month’s 4 and 5-star reads including fantasy, YA fantasy, women’s fiction, romance, historical fiction, and a 10-author collaborative suspense novel.

Click on the covers for Amazon global links.

*****

The Winter of the Witch by Katherine Arden

Can I find the words to say how much I enjoyed this magical fantasy series? Probably not. This is Book 3 of the Winternight Trilogy, and it’s easy to see why it’s a best seller. The trilogy is a retelling of a Russian (Ukrainian) folk tale, and I loved the lore and mythology, the old-world beliefs in the unseen spirits of land and rivers, dooryards and kitchens.

The invisible world is alive, but fading in the face of Christianity. Vasya embraces her identity as a witch as well as her ability to cross into the mysterious and dangerous spirit world. As war looms, Vasya is determined to save the old gods, her family, and the country that tried to kill her. Her sacrifices and courage are gripping, and there are some terrifying and heart-wrenching scenes in this book. I found it almost impossible to put down.

On top of that, the writing is exquisite with beautiful metaphors and descriptions. For readers who love lyrical storytelling, the book is mesmerizing. Characters are deeply drawn, straight from lore and legend, and the relationships are fraught with loyalty, loathing, cruelty, and love. At its heart, this is a love story, but nothing is straightforward and simple in this series. Highly recommended to fantasy readers, especially those who enjoy fairytale retellings, magic, lore, mythology, stupendous characters, a gripping tale, and beautiful writing.

*****

Bits of Broken Glass by Martha Reynolds

A twenty-fifth high school reunion is being planned for six months in the future, and for four characters it becomes an opportunity to think back on how those important years shaped them. For Kellie and Joe it stirs up old trauma. For Cherry, it’s an opportunity to make amends, and for Scott it’s an opportunity missed.

The actual reunion takes place in the last chapter, so the book is really about the lead-up to that event. Each character has a separate POV narrative, which begins to intersect with other characters as the day draws near. I enjoyed the way the author slowly revealed each character’s memories as well as how their lives had progressed. The healing that takes place was cathartic and touching. To me, it seemed that karma was in play, and that kindness bred kindness, as well as the other way around.

The characters were beautifully crafted, their actions and choices realistic and their emotions full of depth. Secondary characters had the same three-dimensional feel. The story unfolds in third-person with a little first-person mixed in. The pace was excellent, and I read the book in two days since it caught me and wouldn’t let go. Recommended to readers who enjoy women’s fiction, and stories about personal growth and rising above old hurts. (Kindle Unlimited).

*****

Between the Vines by Staci Troilo

Elena is a wedding planner who doesn’t trust love. In fact, she’s downright cynical. Aaron, a local cop, has been cheated on in his past, and he’s sworn off love. But his sister’s wedding brings him face to face with Elena and neither of them know how to handle the attraction. Then Heather, Aaron’s cheating ex-girlfriend and a woman you love to hate, enters the scene and pins a target on Elena’s back.

I read this short romance in a couple of hours. The third of the Keystone Couples novellas, the book has fun cameos from the first two but can easily be read as a stand-alone. The pace moves along quickly with plenty of cross-communication, fiery ladies, and a cop who’s not sure how to handle any of it. There are also some very tender testaments to love, and a huge dollop of kindness. An entertaining quick read highly recommended to romance fans. (Kindle Unlimited)

*****

Jealousy of a Viking by V. M. Sang

This historical fiction takes place around the year 860 AD when Danes and Saxons were occupying Britain. Helgha is a young woman who falls in love with Erik, a man above her status. With marriage out of the question, Erik kills her father and sweeps Helgha away to become his bed slave. In love with him, Helgha complies and bears him two sons. And when Erik weds someone of his own class, Helgha begins a devious journey of sabotaging his wife’s pregnancies. Her actions set off a cascade of tragedies.

I’m happy to say that, though jealousy and wicked thoughts follow her for most of the book, Helgha has an arc that allows her to mature and find redemption. She’s a deeply drawn character, and when she finds her heart and inner strength, it’s refreshing. As she matured and became a kinder person, I connected more with her than I did in the beginning. I didn’t like either of the men she loved (due to their treatment of women), but they did feel realistic.

At the end of the book, the author shares some of her research regarding historical events, as well as some cultural details (both researched and speculated). The book focuses on the role of women as the bearers of sons. True to life at the time, the trials of pregnancy, birth, and miscarriage occur frequently within the read, but there’s also lots of action and danger that kept me flipping the pages.

A sub-plot of Helgha’s shifting religious beliefs is exceptionally done and felt quite authentic. The pace moved at a good clip, and I found excuses to keep reading. Recommended for readers who enjoy historical fiction, especially regarding Vikings in Britain.

*****

Altitudinis: Seekers, Sinners & Secrets: A Collaborative Novel

Altitudinis is a serum under development that promises exceptional endurance at high altitudes. It will benefit India’s military as well as its businesses whose employees work in the mountains. But it hasn’t been tested on humans, and unwitting adventurers are targeted for trials. And there are unscrupulous thieves who would like to steal the research and sell it as their own.

Those are only two plot threads that run through this suspense/romance/family drama written by ten authors. The complexity of such a writing collaboration intrigued me, and it may be one reason why there was so much going on in the book with the plots and subplots. Overall, it was surprisingly cohesive and consistent, as if written by one author. That’s quite a feat.

The pace moves quickly. One of the challenges with so much plot-related action, as well as the number of main characters, is that there wasn’t much time to get deeply into the characters’ psyches, emotions, or backstories. Nikhil and Nirali were the exceptions with some time given to their relationship and romance. Because I got to know them personally, they were my favorites.

With the addition of an omniscient POV, this book struck me as a broad versus deep story. Readers looking for a character-driven book may find themselves wanting more depth and focus, but readers who enjoy action-driven stories that don’t get bogged down in messy emotions, description, and backstory, may have found just the thing to fill an afternoon of reading. (Kindle Unlimited).

*****

Golden Healer by M. J. Mallon

I read the first book in this series years ago, but the story came back to me quickly. Amelina continues her journey to understand her magical abilities and the power of the crystals while at the same time she navigates her teen years with her friends and family. I definitely recommend that readers start with book one to orient themselves to this world and the characters.

This book isn’t an easy read, and it wasn’t surprising to me that each chapter is titled a “Puzzle.” The writing is beautiful and rich with description, but much of it takes place in the spirit world through visions and dreams. There are helpers and kind spirits as well as dark shadow demons. Shadows take shape in multiple forms, the primary one being Ryder, who manipulates the world in both real life and dream life.

The main conflict seems to be between the forces of good and evil as they meet in different situations. The author’s world-building is often dazzling, and occasionally I lost track of the plot in all the beautiful visuals and fascinating scenes. My attention remained rapt, but the result was a slow pace.

The primary narrator is Amelina, but her father and friends share the POV. The story unfolds in first person, third person, and omniscient. The action in the book is well described as are the intense emotions of the characters. Readers who enjoy vivid dreamlike worlds, metaphysical and new age spirituality, and coming-of-age stories may find just the thing within these magical pages.

*****

Happy Reading!

Interview with Yvette at Priorhouse

Yvette Prior at Priorhouse kindly offered me a chance to do a mini-interview on her blog. Of course, I snapped it up, and it’s live today. If you have a chance, stop by to say hi. See you there.

***

Hello Readers,

Today I am sharing “TEN Questions with an Author” featuring D Wallace Peach.

📚

Some long-time followers of this blog might know that I startsd the Priorhouse Interview series back in 2015-2016Ish – and managed to do a handful of interviews (mostly yoga teachers) and then in 2021, I decided to put more of a focus on it (thanks in part to Marsha  @alwayswrite).
Also, to get momentum, I scheduled monthly interviews ahead of time (and next month – July 2022- we have author Robbie Cheadle – here – so hope to see you back for that).

Another thing that helped the interview series was doing some unplanned interviews that unfolded on their own- like with  Paul Lucas from the Mariner’s Museum (here) and like this mini interview today.

D Wallace Peach, DWP,  has a new book coming out in August and that was one of the reasons for this mini interview post.  I also had a blog insight for authors and wanted to share that as well (see #5)

#1

Can you tell us about the new book being released in August 2022? And thanks for doing this interview here at Priorhouse.

DWP:

Thanks for having me over for a mini-interview!  And thanks for the fun questions with a chance to jump up and down about a new book!

(Continue to Priorhouse Blog)

Chekhov’s Gun

I’m over at Story Empire today with a post about forecasting, and the principle of Chekhov’s Gun. If you have a minute or two, stop by to say hello. Happy Writing!

Story Empire

Hello Storytellers. Diana here with playwright and author Anton Chekhov to explore the principle of Chekhov’s Gun. I’d love to hear your thoughts at the end. Let’s get started…

Pixabay images unless otherwise noted.

Imagine you’re watching a movie. The good guy and the bad guy are just about to face off in the tool shed. As the camera shifts to the bad guy, you get a glimpse of a pointy meat hook hanging on a chain. Just a glance. But it’s enough to know that someone’s going to get hooked before the fight is over.

This is one example of “Chekhov’s Gun,” though Chekhov was referring to a gun on the mantel instead of a hook in the tool shed.

At the beginning of the year, Beem talked about sprinkling a story with clues for the Big Reveal (Here). This post is a bit of a spin off…

View original post 890 more words

June Book Reviews (Part One)

It looks like June is going to be another successful month of reading, so breaking my monthly reviews into two posts seemed like a good idea. I have a bunch of great reads for you to browse, and more on the way.

Below are reviews for this month’s 4 and 5-star reads including a sci-fi thriller, three poetry collections, a paranormal suspense novel, and a romance/action mash-up.

Click on the covers for Amazon global links.

*****

The Insurgent by Teri Polen

I thoroughly enjoyed the first book in this series (Subject A36) and couldn’t wait to get into the second. It didn’t disappoint. Our hero, Asher, has surrendered to his bio-engineered personality (A36) and become a serious threat to his old team of insurgents. The insurgents are battling the Colony, a diabolical organization that harvests the genes of children (by killing them) so wealthy people can enhance their bodies.

The leader of the Colony, Silas, is a great antagonist because he’s so horrid! And sadly, Asher has become his killing machine. Declan rises to the top as the main protagonist in this book, and he has some relationships to repair after betraying his friends in the last one.

The author spends the first part of the story catching readers up on the characters and what happened during book one. Forward progress doesn’t really take off until about the 20% mark and then it’s non-stop action, twists and turns, deception, plotting, and battling right up until the end, which wraps up nicely.

Despite Asher’s months of murdering people, I still felt a lot of empathy for him from the first book (and recommend reading them both, in order). Declan was convincing, and I liked his sense of humor, but Brinn, and her unwavering trust in Asher’s love, was my favorite. This isn’t a long book and I had a hard time putting it down. Highly recommended for sci-fi readers and fans of fast-paced action. (Kindle Unlimited).

*****

Jagged Feathers by Jan Sikes

Van Noble lost his leg in Afghanistan, and he has a huge inferiority complex about being an incomplete man, but when he discovers Nakina Bird on the run from a Mexican cartel, he steps right up, determined to help her. Thus begins this exciting romance/thriller mashup.

The story has a nice balance of action and romance – the book is definitely both, and Sikes spends a lot of time on character development, which paid off. I connected with both Nakina and Van, and I liked how the action grounded their relationship. Nothing frivolous going on here as they have some serious goals to achieve.

For fans of paranormal fiction or new age mysticism, Nakina has psychic abilities that thread through the story and impact the plot. There are sex scenes and a great deal of sweetness with these characters, but the action ramps up the pace between the romantic lulls. I found both aspects of the story realistic and engaging. Characters from Book One play a secondary role in this story, and this book can be read as a stand-alone without any confusion. Highly recommended to readers who enjoy romance/action mashups.

*****

Life & Soul by Harmony Kent

I read the first book of poetry by this author and was happy to pick up the second. This little collection is full of gems and took me about two hours to read, spread over several days. The styles of poems vary, including both free form and multiple forms of syllabic poetry. Some of the poems run for several pages and some are very brief (but wonderfully powerful).

The book is divided into six sections that address different aspects of a soul’s journey or state of being. Part I, Lonely Soul expresses isolation and longing. Seeking Soul addresses disillusionment and pain. Brief Soul is full of short but impactful poetry, such as this:

Beneficent sage
This old willow
Bowing its crown

Part IV is titled Friendly Soul and explores the importance of friendships. Loving Soul extends into love relationships, and finally, Life of a Soul is a long poem that tells the story of the author’s life, one that I was familiar with from her first book.

There were a lot of poems that I enjoyed. Several of my favorites were Echoes, Life Goes On, Hope, Lost Property, Not Looking, and Unconditional. Okay, more than “several,” but all calling attention to the author’s talent. Highly recommended to fans of poetry looking for a touching read about a soul’s journey. (Kindle Unlimited).

*****

Quantum Wanderlust: A Short Story Anthology

I love time travel and all the ways it can manipulate reality. This book of thirteen time-travel short stories by thirteen authors offers a wide variety of twists on the topic. The genres vary from fantasy to horror to romance. Some stories are spooky, some are sinister, and others are wonderfully poignant.

The Butterfly effect enters into a number of stories but not all of them. Time travel is used to recover lost memories, and to deal with overpopulation in a dystopian future. It plays out in connecting families, getting revenge, and preventing tragedies.

I appreciated the variety of stories, and as with most anthologies, I enjoyed some more than others. There’s plenty of high-quality writing in here with compelling characters and satisfying conclusions. This is an excellent way to explore new authors, and after each story, there’s a short biography of the author with links to their other books and social media.

One thing was clear from reading this collection: Avoid traveling through time, because more often than not, something is going to go terribly wrong. Recommended to readers who enjoy short stories and speculative fiction, and who adore time travel twists. (Free on Kindle).

*****

A Voice in the Silence by D. L. Finn

Drea, a recent widow, lives alone in her home far from town. There’s a serial killer roaming the area and a winter storm on the way. But what initially finds its way into her home isn’t a murderer, but a trio of animals who’ve escaped from a lab—a dog, a cat, and a rat. And before she knows it, they’re doing things that no animals should be able to do. They talk.

Suspension of disbelief was a necessity for this book. In some ways, the fantastical abilities of the animals gave the story a whimsical, childlike innocence. But that quality is countered by the presence of a serial killer outside in the storm, and the suspense intensifies when Drea finds his footprints in the snow. With the help of her animal family, a ghost, and a caring police officer, she just might get through the storm alive.

Three major plot lines thread through the story, and each comes to its own satisfying climax rather than all resolving at the end. The main protagonists are well-rounded characters, and that includes the animals. My favorites were Drea, Adam, and Charlie the dog. The villains range from mentally ill to completely deranged.

The story unfolds primarily from Drea’s perspective though the overall POV is omniscient. The pace is good, and descriptions gave a clear picture of the action and setting. There’s a romantic undercurrent and some violence, including an off-stage suicide. Overall, I’d say this book is suitable for YA and adult audiences, and I recommend it to readers who enjoy paranormal stories and want to try something whimsical, suspenseful, and entirely different. (Kindle Unlimited).

*****

Summer Magic by Marcia Meara

I loved Meara’s Wake Robin Ridge series, and this short book of 18 poems is written by the main character Mackenzie Cole (not really, but you get the idea). The poems are lovely glimpses of childhood summers and growing up in the Blue Ridge Mountains. For this nature-loving reader who spent her summers exploring the woods of Vermont, it was like a trip down memory lane.

The book is divided into two parts: Mac at Ten (about his childhood), and Poems of Love & Life (told from the perspective of an adult). Some of my favorite poems were: The Rope Swing, Star-gazing, and Bruises.

One stanza from Bruises:

Badges.
Attesting to his bravery,
Marking his adventures,
And confirming in his mind
His place among Immortals.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the author (ages ago) without any expectation of a review. I’m glad I finally read it. Highly recommended to poetry readers and grown-up kids who remember the magic of summer.

*****

Poetry Treasures 2: Relationships (WordCrafter Anthology)

I enjoyed the first Poetry Treasures anthology and decided to give this one a try as well. The anthology includes a selection of poems from twelve poets, and as the title suggests, the theme of relationships guided the work. Despite the unifying theme, the poems were quite varied in content and style, and I enjoyed the diversity of forms and voices.

In many anthologies, there’s a range of skill, and some pieces reflect more talent than others. I have to say that in this case, I found all of the poems well-crafted and a pleasure to read. Some of them I recognized from previously published anthologies, and it’s a good sign of their quality that they were so memorable.

That said, I did have some favorites—too many to list, of course. Here is a handful that I especially enjoyed: “The Red Petticoat” by Elizabeth Merry, “A Jar” by D. Avery, “She Lives and Yet She’s Dead” by Robbie Cheadle, and “Fat Belly Joy” by Marjorie Mallon. And so many more.

Prior to each set of poems there’s a short biography of the poet. Many of these poets have their own published collections for readers who didn’t get enough here. The book took me about an hour to read (approximately 36 poems in all) and it was an hour well spent. Highly recommended

*****

Happy Reading!